Young Restless and No Longer Reformed (2) (John Frye)

Young, Restless, and no longer Reformed Part 2

We are reviewing Austin Fischer’s Young, Restless, and no longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey In and Out of Calvinism. I agree with Fischer’s take on the biblical and pastoral weaknesses of Calvinism. I want to focus on four of his many excellent and provocative observations.

First, no one becomes a Calvinist from just reading the Bible. To the YRRs who say, “Calvinism is on every page of the Bible,” I would like to see the concordance on that. On the other hand, the relational interplay between God (divine will) and people (human will) is almost on every page of the Bible. People have to be taught an interpretive, systematic grid based on a handful of beloved Calvinist texts that, like Kool-Aid in water, color the whole Bible. No one doubts that the Calvinist system is pristine, even intoxicating. It’s like a theological creation of Lego pieces, so intricately interlocked. I do remember as a new Calvinist being deeply humbled by the system’s definition of “sovereign grace.”

Second, when you take away the Calvinist fig leaf woven with terms like “mystery,” “passing over,” and “antinomy,” the naked God of the eternal, meticulous decree is not a God Who loves everyone; he selects only his elect. I like the way Austin dismantles the Calvinist two kinds of love (24-25). My opinion is that the game of arranging the ordo salutis is a task of presumptive humans trying to read the mind of God in eternity past. Many people are waking up to the “unblinking cosmic stare” (Dallas Willard) God created by any version of TULIP. I remember riding a tour bus in Mumbai, India, and seeing literally thousands of people up and down every street. I was in a city of millions of people who in the minds of many are reprobate, eternally damned to hell; decreed so by the God I worship; predestined to hell for God’s glory. If that’s so, then glory sounds like a treacherous word.  Fischer suggests the God of Calvinism becomes One Who is so turned in on himself for his own glory that he becomes the cosmic Black Hole (14-15).

Third, many texts used to create systematic Calvinism have been shown to be misused. I think Fischer does a good job poking back at the Calvinist misuse of Romans 9 (and Gregory Boyd reclaims many misused texts in God at War). Austin’s section on the Bible made impossible is provocative (33-35). The hermeneutical and theological gymnastics that Calvinists use to diffuse “the plain reading of Scripture” is laughable, if not so seriously twisting the sacred text. Fischer suggests that these differing views of the same texts are traceable to bliks—interpretive lenses through which everything is understood (81-82).

Fourth, and for me most convincingly, Fischer makes clear that the Calvinist God is not the God we see in the face of Jesus Christ. Fischer writes, “… [T]he crucified Jesus is both the foundation and criticism of all Christian theology. … And so, plainly, does the God on the cross look like the God of Calvinism” (45)? Fischer makes a good case for the answer “no.” When we start with Jesus on the cross and work back and forward through the Bible, we do not meet the Platonic- concept-of-perfection-God espoused by Calvinism.

Are there godly, kind Calvinists? Yes, I know many. Are there pesky Arminians and irritating open theists? I imagine there are. I like this from Fischer, “I think Calvinists are right on some things, kind of wrong on some things, and really wrong on some things” (90-91). Some years ago the senior pastor of a large Assembly of God Church told me this story. He met with the denominational leaders of the Christian Reformed Church to discuss church growth in West Michigan. The Assembly’s pastor thanked the Reformed leaders for filling his church and many other Assemblies churches. The Reformed leaders were a little taken back, asking, “How did we do that?” The pastor said, “By preaching your view of God so faithfully. Thank you. People from your churches flock to ours to escape a wrathful, unpleasable God and they find in our churches a God who so ravishingly loves them that he chases them down with passionate desire.” We can argue Pelagianism, Arminianism, semi-Pelagianism, Open theism, and Calvinism ad infinitum. Yet, people, ordinary people, just want to know “What kind of God is at the center of the universe?” At the center of reality is there a meticulously determined decree or a “Lamb, looking as it if had been slain”?

I appreciate Austin Fischer and his book for sparking a fair and amiable conversation on such a vital topic: what is the nature and purpose of God?

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